Thirteen Pac-12 Conference football players announced Sunday they were opting out of the coming season, saying they would not play until systemic inequities that have been highlighted by college athletics’ response to the coronavirus pandemic were addressed.
The players, who are from 10 schools and include All-American and honor roll candidates, said that playing a contact sport like football during the outbreak would be reckless because of what they described as inadequate transparency about the health risks, a lack of uniform safety measures and an absence of ample enforcement.
Those shortcomings, they added, are emblematic of a system in which players have little standing to address social, economic or racial inequalities — and, they said, far more of the millions of dollars they help generate should go toward addressing them.
“The people who are deciding whether we are going to play football are going to prioritize money over health and safety 10 times out of 10,” Jaydon Grant, a senior defensive back at Oregon State who graduated with a degree in digital communication arts said in an interview.
The announcement comes as the college football season is increasingly in doubt as the coronavirus bounces around the country — including infiltrating Major League Baseball — no more under control than it was in March, when college sports and professional leagues in the United States began shutting down.
This has led many universities to keep students off campus and some conferences, like the Ivy League, to postpone fall sports until at least January. But the schools at the lucrative top of the football food chain, which heavily leans on television revenue, are forging ahead. Four major conferences — the Southeastern, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Atlantic Coast — have pared their schedules mainly to conference games.
Still, there is pushback gathering over whether universities should be conscripting unpaid college athletes to keep hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into athletic departments’ coffers by largely assuming whatever risks come with Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Particularly when there are no N.C.A.A.-wide standards on the frequency of testing or other protocols, which some schools could resist because they would be costly. (The N.C.A.A. has made recommendations but decisions have been left up to the universities themselves.)
The N.C.A.A. Board of Governors, which largely comprises university presidents, will consider fall sports when it meets Tuesday.
While some athletes have expressed trepidation about playing football during the pandemic — including SEC players during a recent call with league officials, according to The Washington Post — and a handful have opted out, the Pac-12 players represent the first collective effort to question why players are assuming so much risk.
The Pac-12 players, who include Oregon safety Jevon Holland, considered a possible first-round N.F.L. draft pick, and Washington linebacker Joe Tryon, a preseason All-American, are taking advantage of the conference’s recent announcement that it will allow all students to retain their athletic scholarships if they opt out. The players said the conditions for their return not only included increased health and safety protections, but measures that would redistribute some of the millions of dollars that college football generates.
The players asked that Commissioner Larry Scott, who is paid $5.3 million per year, and other coaches and administrators drastically reduce their pay and end lavish facility spending. They also demanded increased medical insurance coverage, six-year scholarships, the freedom to hire marketing agents, and that 50 percent of each sport’s conference revenue be distributed evenly among athletes in their sport, akin to how professional sports leagues share revenue with players.
Scott declined an interview request. A conference spokesman referred to a statement that said the group had not contacted the Pac-12 or its schools.
The Games Resume
Sports and the Virus
Updated July 31, 2020
Here’s what’s happening as the world of sports slowly comes back to life:
- The N.B.A. returned, and the Lakers held on to beat the Clippers in a thriller. Zion Williamson played in the first game of the night for the Pelicans.
- Players, coaches and analysts are watching this season’s baseball games to see what effect the absence of fans has.
- With no summer tournaments to play in, top high school basketball stars are committing to colleges earlier. Villanova is one of the beneficiaries.
“These are discussions and topics that are talked about in locker rooms around the country weekly,” said Valentino Daltoso, a senior three-year starter on the offensive line at California, where he recently graduated in legal studies. “This isn’t some new idea out of left field.”
Daltoso, one of three Cal players to opt out, said the idea took a foothold about a month ago during a Zoom call his teammates had in the wake of protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. As the discussions developed, they reached out to players around the Pac-12 and to others, like Ramogi Huma, the director of the National College Players Association, which advocates for players’ rights.
The players say there are hundreds of others in the Pac-12 who share their concerns, and indeed dozens, including Penei Sewell, an Oregon offensive tackle who is considered a likely top draft pick next year, retweeted a Twitter post on Sunday with the hashtag #WeAreUnited.
Daltoso expects there are also hundreds of players in other conferences who feel similarly, noting the questions the SEC players raised in their conference call with Commissioner Greg Sankey and the conference’s medical advisers.
When MoMo Sanogo, a linebacker at Mississippi, wondered why colleges were bringing students back to campus, according to The Post, an official replied, “It’s one of those things where if students don’t come back to campus, then the chances of having a football season are almost zero.” Another player wondered about the long-term effects of contracting the virus.
“Those guys in the SEC are not alone in how they feel,” Daltoso said. “Good for them for advocating for themselves. Our power as players comes from being knowledgeable of each other’s struggles.”
Grant, the Oregon State player and a son of former N.B.A. player Brian Grant, said that his school has taken extensive measures to keep players safe during workouts, but he doesn’t see a way to play games, where social distancing would be impossible. A restricted environment at a limited number of sites, an approach that seems to have worked in the nascent returns of pro basketball and soccer, would be impractical for teams of 120 players — and antithetical to college sports.
And the sidelining of Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez with heart inflammation related to the coronavirus has also been chilling.
“Do you want to wait until something happens to us or do you want ensure that there’s a system in place that will help keep us safe?” Grant said. “The system has failed to provide our insurance. That’s why we’re united.”